Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Rottenberg zt”l was the Rabbi of the Chareidi community in Paris France under the Nazis. While in the Nazi concentration camp, he would erect a Sukkah on the day before the Yom Tov and fulfill the Mitzvah of eating a Kezayis in a Sukkah. On account of the fact that it was mortally dangerous, he would then proceed to take the Sukkah apart that night so that the Nazis would not catch him.
Ours is not to question the dedication and Mesiras Nefesh of those saintly Tzaddikim who gave their all to fulfill Hashem’s Mitzvos during those times. Indeed, an argument could be made that even if there would be halachic problems with proceeding upon such a course, the very times and atmosphere of such evil in the world demanded that individuals stand up for Mitzvah observance to vouchsafe Torah Judaism for future generations. Halacha itself might make exceptions in certain circumstances to observe these Mitzvos despite other halachic problems.
Nonetheless, it is still instructive to delineate the halachic issues involved in Rav Rottenberg’s observance of this Mitzvah of Sukkah under unparalleled adversity. The benefits are two-fold: Firstly, we will gain understanding of the concepts involved, and secondly, perhaps we can gain a new appreciation of this remarkable Mitzvah of Sukkah.
The first question is whether the Sukkah itself is valid or not. The Ramah (OC 640:4) in Hilchos Sukkah tells us that if a person is afraid to remain in the Sukkah on account of a fear of robbers, then the Sukkah is invalid –even initially because it is considered Mitztaer- pained or uncomfortable. The Talmud tells us that the requirement for a Sukkah is Tishvu k’ain taduru – you must dwell in the Sukkah in the manner that you dwell all year round. Hence if a person is unduly uncomfortable because of the wind or flies, mosquitoes or a bad smell, he does not fulfill his Mitzvah with such a Sukkah.
A second question is that there is a requirement for the Sukkah to be able to last all seven days of the holiday.
The third question is are we in fact permitted to make a Sukkah when we know that we will have to take the Sukkah down on the holiday itself.
A fourth question, of course, is, in general, one obligated to risk their life in order to fulfill the Mitzvah of Sukkah? The entire matter was presented to Rav Elyashiv zt”l (See Kav V’naki p. 196) who responded to the first question alone. Rav Elyashiv suggested that in his particular situation Rav Rottenberg must havefelt that for a period of less than an hour there would be no concern of the Nazis coming and discovering his Sukkah. The Sukkah was therefore Kosher since he erected it very close to sundown and removed after Tzeis HaKochavim.
This author would like to suggest that even if it was a danger, theSukkah may still have been valid according to a number of other authorities. The Shaarei Teshuvah (OC 640:5) cites a number of authorities that dispute the notion of the Sukkah being invalid for these reasons, especially for the Mitzvah of eating.
The Remah’s source for this Halacha is actually found in the Mordechai in hilchos Sukkah. But many authorities question the words of this Mordechai. These authorities include the Chacham Tzvi and his son the Mor Uketziya. Indeed, the Shaarei Teshuvah argues, the very existence of a Sukkah being kosher at a minimum of seven handbreadths by seven handbreadths indicates that even when one is uncomfortable, there is still a Mitzvah of eating in the Sukkah. Certainly, under the extreme circumstances that Rabbi Rottenberg experienced, one may rely upon the opinion of these other authorities – especially since one has no other choice in order to fulfill the Mitzvah.
The author hopes to address the other three questions over the Sukkos Yom Tov.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org